Food, and becoming what we eat!

Posted: May 2, 2017 in Uncategorized

Easter 3A, 2017 Luke 24:13-35

Food, and becoming what we eat!

The Road to Emmaus story is a wonderful story of invitation. It celebrates Easter. It requests participation.  It is in the best sense a faith legend. Bill Loader Uniting Church of Australia says that ‘whatever actual experience may lie behind the story, it is now an invitation.  It invites us to join the journey.” (Wm Loader Web site, 2005) He also suggests that the Road to Emmaus’ story is indeed a wonderful, original story by the storyteller we call Luke. He says it is a wonderful story of imagining, sharing, celebrating, and teaching. Especially ‘imagining’, because imagination never numbs us with description but coaxes us into a new situation.

As the story is told and the plot revealed we can find ourselves engaged in the questions and the possibilities of the story, as a different re-imagining of the world dawns. A point to note that this story is a ‘metaphorical story’; it is not ‘history remembered’, Marcus Borg nudges us and reminds us of this also.  (Borg 2001:44)

Having said that I want to introduce another idea that stretches this idea of what a metaphorical genre is and seeks to do.

Jacob Needleman, a philosopher at San Francisco State University, has studied the Gospel of Mary and his suggestion is that in both root and essence the teaching of Jesus is a vision and a Way that has been given to humankind from a source outside our known qualities of mind and sensibility. He suggests that the luminosity and mystery of what Jesus said and did two thousand years ago is a “shock from above” that changed the world and that continues to reverberate in the hopes of millions over the whole face of the earth. But he says, the inner and outer conditions of modern life are such that it has become nearly impossible for many of us to hear the spiritual traditions of the world. Needleman suggests that the Gospel of Mary, taken with the inspired commentary by Jean-Yves Leloup, can help toward making the teaching of Jesus once again alive— that is, ‘unknown’, I use the word ‘mystery’ here to link it with what I was claiming about mystery some weeks ago. The challenge is to use the word not in the negative sense, but in the great and fertile meaning of the word unknown or mystery. Every spiritual teaching sounds a call from above. But, the central aim of the teaching of Jesus is to sensitize us to the above that also calls to us from within ourselves. I am not happy with the reference to above here as I would rather use the word other. For me the word other breaks the link with old three tier universe thinking and I prefer that. The immensity of Christianity Needleman says; takes its interior meaning as a sign of an immensity within the self of every human being. As a path of inner awakening, as a path of deep self-knowledge (that is to say, gnosis), it invites and supports the inner struggle to attend, to “hear and obey” one’s own Self, God in oneself. As Jean-Yves Leloup suggests, this is the intimate meaning of Anthropos: to be fully human oneself, to be the incarnation of God. This is a challenging teaching— not in the philosophical or theological sense, nor in the sense that it has never been said before, but in the sense that our ordinary thoughts and feelings can never really penetrate it. We have too much culture perhaps. And it is unknown in the sense that we live our lives on the surface of ourselves, not knowing the one thing about our own being that it is necessary for us to know and that would bring us every good we could seriously wish for. We are speaking of an unknown part of ourselves, which is at the same time the essential part of ourselves: the Teacher within, our genuine identity. The way— and it is surely the way that is offered by all the spiritual traditions of the world— is the practice, and the community supporting the practice, that opens a relationship between our everyday sense of self and the Self, or Spirit.

This interior relationship between self and Spirit, we are told, is made possible through the inner cultivation of a specific quality of conscious attention and intelligence that in this tradition is referred to by the Greek term nous, or higher mind. One might suggest here that our motto, Honour the mind, live the questions and explore the adventure of humanity is another way of engaging with or illuminating this higher or other mode.

We know that it is the realm of intermediate attention and of mediating conscious forces in the cosmos that are mythologized as the angelic realms in the esoteric traditions of the world’s religions. It is in this miraculous yet lawful mediating contact between the higher and the lower or the inner and outer within ourselves that the deeper, intimate experience of conscious love is given— a conscious love for our starved and confused self that is at the same time love for our neighbour whose inner condition of metaphysical poverty is identical to our own. As Jean-Yves Leloup shows us, this is the love that is spoken of in the words of Jesus, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is a love that cannot be commanded, but that we are obliged to recognize as the defining attribute of our essential Self.

One of the most remarkable aspects of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is that the more it shows us about the meaning of Christianity, the more the mystery deepens. This paradox is due, surely, to the fact that, like every truly spiritual communication, it speaks to us both on the surface and at deep unconscious levels at the same time.

While at the intellectual level the honouring of the mind points to the resolution of apparent contradictions that sometimes drive us away from belief in the objective existence of the Good, holding to the living of the questions and exploring humanity, it at the same time opens the heart to a silent recognition of homecoming— the joy of what we knew without words all along, but had all but given up hope of finding. Here is the point of awareness, the aha! moment, the conversion experience. No mystery is greater or more welcome than this— that above our minds, in the depths of silence, we may be given to know ourselves as Being and as created to serve the good both for God and our neighbour. In this context Luke has us thinking about that which happens for us when sharing a meal together. So having been off on that deep exploration of being human we return to the story.

As we begin to get into this story we can be assured that many informed scholars have speculated as to where Emmaus actually was. Four places seem to have been suggested. The first was Amwas, near Latrun – approx. 20 miles from Jerusalem; the second was Abu Ghosh – approx. 7.5 miles from Jerusalem; The third Qubelba – approx. 7 miles from Jerusalem, and the fourth Moza – which was approx. 4 miles from Jerusalem). We also might note that many have heard and interpreted this story and some commentators have sought to explain aspects of this story in terms of an ‘interventionist’ God. They say that on the road back home toward Emmaus, God intervened deliberately, and kept Cleopas (and his wife?) from ‘seeing’ Jesus, so that Jesus could explain the scriptures to them.

On the other hand, others see the work of a ‘supernaturalist’ God in this story. When Jesus suddenly appears spirit-like, and then later on, is suddenly whisked away. And when Jesus can no longer be ‘seen’ with eyes because he had gone from this world to the ‘Father’, this new world evades our senses.

Well, I’m not sure for all of you, but none of these attempts resonate with me. Especially the theology of those two suggestions. I would claim that those approaches become little more than brainteasers and kill off the story.

I would rather like to stay with the context a little longer so that I can appreciate its influence of the story and to that end I would now like to offer some comments which I hope might be helpful as well as imaginative.

All stories are very concrete.  They ‘live’ within a particular context. And I am not alone when I suggest this story’s context may have been some debates about how Gentile Jesus followers could sense the presentness of the Post-Easter Christ after the death of Jesus. We remember here that within the ancient Jewish mind time and space are subject to the transportation of the event. The Passover is not a re-enactment but rather a reliving of the actual event. History is always renewed. In Luke’s time there is a need to articulate how this might be explained in his time with the questions he faces.

Luke does this by telling a story about the most common and important community occasion these followers of Jesus had experienced. The experience is of a meal in community rather than an ‘out-of-this-world’ experience. So we can put away the miracle issues, the interventionist God ideas and the supernatural explanation. This is a meal story and a bonding story. Why? Because Luke is grounded enough to know we become what we eat!

From all that we are now discovering about early Christian culture, meals played an important role in both community life and in the Jesus movement tradition. Indeed, ‘Followers of the Jesus Way’ regularly ate together, even before they began to conduct worship services. And Jesus seems so closely associated with meals that one of the criticisms levelled against him, you will remember, was as a ‘glutton and drunkard’.  (Matt 11:19)

We can be pretty sure that Luke heard some of those stories, re-imagined them, as well as having shared in some of the meals. He knew the power of story so he tells a meal story at a crucial point in this local community’s history.

And if we continue to accept the findings of modern biblical scholarship, then we can affirm that: 1. Jesus regularly accepted invitations to attend meals, but as a guest rather than as a host, and, 2. Jesus used these occasions for re-imagining and ‘indirect’ teaching, rather than the so-called ‘whiteboard and text’ kind. When he engaged in teaching he did it by sharing pithy, deeply understood and common language sayings and parables born in and out of the culture.

“Words and food are made out of the same stuff”, writes Rubem Alves. “They are both born of the same mother: hunger.” (Alves 1990:77)

  1. O’Donohue says; For around a meal, food is shared not hoarded, friendships are made and relationships strengthened.  And “experimentation, adventure and innovation lure us toward new horizons.” O’Donohue 2003:146)

We can be pretty sure that the continued celebration of meals – early Christianity often called it ‘breaking of bread’ – was motivated primarily by the needs of community, rather than establishing or remembering the so-called ‘upper room’ meal event. So for us, this story is not a forerunner to, or about, Holy Communion. And it certainly has got nothing to do with any doctrine of ‘transubstantiation’! But on the other hand, because all religious language is metaphorical… When bread and wine and BBQs are eaten, they become body and blood. Our body and blood.

In the same vein when body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. Our compassionate deeds. And when compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as Christ in our neighbour.

“Since the beginning of time,” author Robert Fulghum writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship…  Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together.”  (Fulghum 1995:81-82)

Because the storyteller Luke knows we become what we eat his Easter stories are an invitation to share, to journey, and to celebrate. And as his Emmaus story particularly notes, “hospitality is the open door to creative transformation and an expanded vision of possibilities.”  (Bruce Epperly P&F web site, 2008) Amen.

Notes: Alves, R. 1990.  The Poet, the Warrior, the Prophet. London. SCM Press/Trinity Press. Borg, M. J. 2001.  Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally.  New York. HarperSanFrancisco. Fulghum, R. 1995.  From Beginning to End. The Rituals of our Lives. Moorebank. Bantam Press. O’Donohue, J. 2003.  Divine Beauty. The Invisible Embrace. London. Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press.

Leloup, Jean-Yves. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene . Inner Traditions/Bear & Company. Kindle Edition.


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